This article focuses on a story of what can occur when there is an unchecked clash between what you might expect to happen versus the countless possibilities of what can happen.
The intention is to illustrate the benefit in recognising how pre-determined expectations can sometimes blur reality. Thereby, hopefully giving the reader a different approach in handling disappointing or aggravating scenarios both inside and outside the workplace…
I recently read an article on the BBC Sport website and it was about a young, upcoming sprinter called Adam Gemili.
As I got into reading it I found a really interesting point made mid way, here’s part of the article I’m referring to:
“The morning after finishing fourth in Rio, Gemili spoke to psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters, who is famed for his work with the likes of Tour de France winner Sir Bradley Wiggins and snooker great Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Gemili recalled: “He really hit me with it.
“‘I don’t know what you were expecting,’ he said. ‘There is no guarantee of a medal. It is OK to be disappointed, but if you don’t want to feel like this, go and do something else. This is what sport is like.'”
Gemili concludes: “I know that next time it comes around I don’t want to be that close again.”
This really resonated with me on two fronts; one professional and personal. I want to also tie this back to a recent consulting gig..bear with me and hopefully you’ll see my point.
I’ll start with the personal.
Recently, I competed in the world master’s games in the athletics (100m / 200m and 4×100 relay) I had been preparing all season. I made the finals in both and came 4th in both, the 100m by 2 hundredths of a second, faster than you can blink your eye.
Now, my subconscious mind had secretly built in an expectation that there was a strong chance getting a medal – I know first error made! Thinking on it, I think it was partly used for motivation as I’ve practiced mental visualisation before however this time around I was seeing the result. The norm is to go through the motions of the race. If I’m being honest, need for the silverware usurped normal mental race preparation. It obviously made the job harder because I got crazy nervous before the race – with the weight of the expectation. I did the job getting to the finals for the individual events, coming 4th place in both. Even with running season’s bests and losing to some pretty stiff competition my initial reaction was deep disappointment – that was my chance gone.
Like most experiences in life it’s the fruit that is just out of reach that provides the most angst.
I eventually got over the double kidney punches and dusted myself off for the relay, our team was called the ‘underdogs’ for good reason. However, this time around I felt completely different in that I had already tasted personal defeat and now this was a team effort – I felt immense confidence but in an earnest way. The initial disappointment and energy had been charged up inside ready to be released.
I ran the third leg, which for those who don’t follow athletics, is the final bend of the track. It’s my favourite part of the track and for some reason I just have a knack for running it well (maybe because my left leg is shorter than my right!). By the time I got the baton we were in down in 5th place, I got the baton and to the cries of my team mate behind me I ran like a mad man, blitzed the bend and put us in 2nd a metre behind gold place. Alas, it wasn’t quite enough to grab the Gold but it was good enough for Silver. For me it was a great moment and for many reasons it was just reward for the sporting ‘almost there’ moments of the past.
So, what’s my point? It’s the level of perceived expectation which can often skew the reality of the situation, which in business terms can be a hazard for you and even your team or squad.
Since you’re still here, allow me explain how this is relevant to the consulting game, citing a recent experience with some useful lessons.
I completed an assignment recently and the premise was to comply with recently amended government legislation, coming into effect in a matter of months. It meant that there was a business case to make significant changes to some front end services and also to internal, reporting. It encompassed the entire organisation and its business areas.
Time was a major factor, in that the project was well behind schedule. By the time I joined it should have entered the test phase. A team was quickly put together and was being driven by externals; myself and the project manager. To start, it was important to quickly interpret the legislation and trace this back to identified ‘in scope’ designated business groups. Out of this the intention was then to elicit business requirements to drive the solution design. This task was the trickiest and stickiest element of the bunch. With our limited knowledge of the organisational landscape there arose the risk of painting a partially complete picture. Adding to the fact that the nature of the domain meant that tracing transactions was a massively complex process.
As a team we managed to successfully identify where the transactions were occurring by product, channel and system. This then gave us a base to develop a solution to accommodate the business requirements gathered from the various business groups. The catch was that given the amount of grey inherent in the project the time and effort required to land where we did was significant. My role was then to assist with validating the requirements in the assess phase of the development cycle and help the project transition from macro to micro in terms of capturing the finer details.
The Lesson’s Learned
At the end of the assignment I got some useful feedback which made me ponder.
It was along the lines of being able to handle notoriously, challenging stakeholders and working in an environment clouded in fog and ambiguity. Initially I was surprised with this account, partly due to the accuracy but after a while it got me thinking.
Yes, perception is everything and there is a hint of ‘the customer is always right’ here- but I did the mirror staring and self inquiry that often follows. It goes without saying, as a consultant you’re there to at times be in the trenches; to roll your sleeves up and deliver and sometimes that can be in the absence of any form of governance, strategy. You can also expect a healthy dose of criticism while you’re engaged.
This brought me back to what Adam Gemili’s psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters, “‘I don’t know what you were expecting.’
To many, myself included, it can seem like a harsh reality but as often is the case it’s a bonus to have all your work laid out before you like a yellow brick road for you and Dorothy to skip down together. Instead, what you can be presented with is a steep, rocky path through a minefield with Freddy Kruger chasing you.
For me, it’s an important reminder, not just in work but pretty much every facet of ‘modern’ day life that nothing is guaranteed and often our expectations can be flawed. It’s good practice to be upfront and check your your own expectations, not to hold you back but to arm yourself for the worst case scenario. Then, if the situation that presents itself is better than you expected it can be an even bigger bonus than originally anticipated. If it’s not all roses, then hopefully you were prepared for that eventuality anyway – so you’d be better placed to handle it.